Qaratah: “We in this Parliament have borne what nobody else should have to bear. We agreed with the Government that everything would occur through agreement and coordination, yet it took its decisions unilaterally and offered pitiful compensation payments unbefitting of the Bahraini citizen”
Qaratah: “This is not something we are satisfied with for Bahrainis – especially those on low incomes. We believe that passing the Budget in this manner was the wrong decision”
Member of the Bahrain National Bloc
Member of the Permanent Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs (from Oct 2015)
Member of Joint Committee for Reviewing Subsidy Reform (July 2015)
Chairman of Mumtalakat Investigation Committee (April 2015)
Member of Committee for Investigating Improper Recitation of Quranic verses (Mar 2015)
Member of Palestine Committee
Member of Government Action Plan Committee (Jan-Feb 2015)
Member of Permanent Committee for Public Utilities and Environment (Nov 2014 – Oct 2015)
Qaratah is by far one of the most vocal and visible MPs in the 2014 Parliament. He is also one of the most outspoken critics of Government policy. During mid-2015, most of his attention has been devoted to the subsidy reform issue, over which he has strongly criticized the Government for acting unilaterally and for taking measures which have harmed citizens.
Qaratah returned to Parliament in 2014 after his successful grassroots election campaign. His constituency covers the heart of old Manama and has a diverse population which has tended in the past to favour oppositionist figures.
At the beginning of the new parliamentary term in October 2015, Qaratah received 28 votes from MPs for his membership of the Finance Committee after an unprecedented move in which MPs Khalid al-Shaer, Nasir al-Qaseer and former Chairman Isa al-Kooheji were effectively voted off the Committee. As one of the most vocal MPs on financial issues, inclusion in the Finance Committee consolidates Qaratah’s position as one of the key economic voices in the Parliament.
Just a few days after the committee elections, Qaratah announced to the media the establishment of the Bahrain National Bloc, a parliamentary bloc whose existence had been reported several months before, but effectively came into being for the negotiations around the elections for chairmanship of the committees. The bloc is to be headed by Abdulrahman Bumjaid.
Qaratah has spoken out on several occasions about his concerns over rising public debt and wastage of public funds, showing himself to have a keen economic awareness. He has had numerous encounters with the Finance Minister during parliamentary sessions on these issues, including an occasion in mid-2015 where he notoriously accused the Government of “blackmailing” MPs in order to increase debt levels and treating the Finance Ministry like a “cold store”.
Qaratah’s arguments about reducing the national debt spurred the Finance Minister to challenge him to submit a Budget of his own. During the 23 June 2015 parliamentary session Qaratah announced that he had finalized his “zero deficit” Budget and would submit it to the Minister. During the 2 July vote on the State Budget, Qaratah voted against it.
Predictably, during mid-2015 Qaratah has been one of the most visible figures commenting on the subsidy reform issue. On 24 August he called on the Government to shelve these proposals until the 2017 Budget.
Qaratah has been one of the foremost figures calling for greater investment in Bahraini sporting achievements.
ACTIVITY DURING 2015-2016 PARLIAMENT SEASON
Housing, services & infrastructure
Housing: During a parliamentary debate on 13 Oct in which the Housing Minister was present, Qaratah strongly criticized housing provision in Manama, noting the lack of funding and available land.
The 27 Oct parliamentary session discussed and approved a motion put forward by a number of MPs calling for taking possession of old buildings and replacing them with new housing. Ahmed Qaratah claimed that there were 3,600 homes in Manama alone unfit to be occupied.
Events hall: During the 24 Nov parliamentary session, a proposal by Al-Jowder, Qaratah, Al-Hammadi, Bufarsan and Bumjaid, for establishing an events hall for women in Qalali, was withdrawn for further consultation, at the request of the Chairwoman of the Women and Children’s Committee, Al-Haiki.
Standards of living, health & education
Retirement: Qaratah on 28 Sep spoke out against possible measures for increasing retirement age, saying “you can’t treat people like machines”.
Benefit payments: During their weekly meeting on 20 October MPs voted in favour of measures to enshrine counter-inflation payments into law and more clearly define who is entitled to them. Qaratah stressed that these payments had become an integral part of people’s monthly budgets. Therefore legislation was needed to guarantee continuation of these payments and reassure the public of their continuation.
Health: MPs Osama al-Khajah, Abdulhalim Murad, Ibrahim al-Hammadi, Ahmed Qaratah and Jamila al-Sammak proposed a mobile health centre for the elderly and those with special needs. Al-Wasat reported on 23 Oct that this proposal was to be discussed in the coming parliamentary session. On 27 Oct, MPs approved this proposal. Al-Khajah said that the proposal aimed to improved access of these segments of society to healthcare.
Education: Qaratah on 31 Oct questioned the Education Minister about how empty teaching posts had been filled since 2010.
Economy & employment
Worker fees: During the 3 Nov parliamentary session, MPs voted to reduce the fees imposed on companies for employing foreign workers. The Information Minister claimed that such a proposal was illegal and should be modified. Qaratah said that the measure aimed to reduce pressures on employers and would encourage small businesses to invest. Qaratah noted that the Govt itself had halted such fees in the past.
Good governance & public finance
Public debt: Qaratah on 26 Aug warned that the Govt was moving to issue a new draft bill for further raising debt levels, following continuing falls in oil prices. He criticized the Govt’s high reliance (86%) on oil revenues for balancing its Budget and the lack of a strategy for reducing dependence on oil and reducing debt levels.
Qaratah on 7 Nov said that the Committee had notified the Finance Minister of its rejection of an increase in the public debt ceiling to BD 10bn. He told Al-Watan newspaper that there wasn’t a clear Govt strategy for addressing public debt. Qaratah said that the Finance Committee planned to meet the Economic Development Board with regard to the increase in public debt.
Economy: In mid-August Qaratah and Abbas al-Madhi participated in a parliamentary delegation to an economic conference for the Asian Parliament Society in Jakarta.
Subsidies: On 13 July Qaratah once again called for an immediate freeze on the planned implementation of meat subsidy reforms. He called for “a road map for subsidy reform” arrived at through coordination with MPs. He commented that there was no point meeting with ministers if they had already taken and executed decisions in this area. On 14 July Qaratah welcomed the Prime Minister’s motion to delay the implementation of meat subsidy reforms, saying that this gave more time for consultation.
In his role with the joint committee for discussing the subsidies issue on 27 July, Qaratah commented that MPs failed to agree among themselves on a common vision for subsidy reform, so how could they confront the Govt? During 16 Aug a majils in Muharraq attended by members of the Joint Subsidies Committee; Qaratah warned of the risks of rising debt levels and cited statistics for levels of Govt spending on subsidies.
Qaratah on 24 Aug urged the Govt to delay subsidy reform until the 2017 Budget to allow sufficient time to study the data and come up with a holistic vision. He noted that 22 different goods and services would be affected by subsidy reform; however, the Joint Parliamentary Committee had only received information on a few of these areas so far.
Qaratah on 1 Sep told the media that the Govt had notified the Joint Committee about its agreement to delay implementation of meat subsidy reform until October. Qaratah on 2 Sep said that within the next two weeks the Govt would begin registration for citizens meat subsidy compensation payments, following an agreement to delay implementation of the new subsidy regime until Oct. Qaratah on 3 Sep said that the Sub-Committee was proposing a reduction in electricity charges for citizens, while raising charges for non-Bahraini residents. Speaking at a National Unity Gathering event, he stressed that citizens shouldn’t be adversely affected by reform.
Qaratah on 6 Sep said that the Govt had proposed increasing prices for the higher grade of petrol, while maintaining prices for the regular grade. Qaratah said that the Subsidies Sub-Committee had been discussing data received from the Govt, which he described as “incomplete” in many aspects. He said that the Committee planned to request that the Govt increased cash compensation payments to Bahraini families.
Qaratah said that public debt could rise to BD 11bn by the end of 2016, while noting that subsidy reform could equate to 15% of the Budget. He stressed the importance of revenue diversification.
Qaratah on 7 Sep said that MPs were trying to hurry ministers to respond to questions about subsidy issues due to the lack of time before the Committee was due to submit its conclusions. Qaratah told Al-Wasat newspaper that MPs were inclined to demand that either ministers introduced the smart card system, or that compensation payments be increased. He said that ministers had assured MPs of readiness for consultation and avoidance of unilateral decisions.
Joint Committee member Qaratah on 14 Sep emphasized that the Bahraini citizen was at the heart of proposals for subsidy reforms, with the citizen acting as a partner in efforts by MPs. He said that increased counter-inflationary payments were MPs’ second preferred option if the smart card proposal was rejected.
Qaratah on 29 Sep said that in two days’ time a meeting of MPs would decide on the final position towards the Govt’s compensation plan for meat subsidy reforms. He criticized the Govt’s failure to adopt MPs’ smart card proposal.
Qaratah on 1 Oct said that MPs had frozen their meetings with ministers after the Govt took the decision to go ahead with meat subsidy reforms. He said that there would just be one further meeting of the Committee in order to prepare its report for MPs.
Following the Government directive to set up a committee to discuss prospects for a subsidies smart card, on 8 Oct Qaratah said that the move was “useless” because of a lack of time scale or commitment to implement the recommendations. Qaratah noted that the Govt had been promising for some time to study this proposal, so this was nothing new. Rather, the Govt should halt implementation of subsidy reforms until conclusions had been reached.
Qaratah on 18 Oct told Al-Wasat newspaper that the Joint Subsidies Committee would submit its final report to the Parliament Administration by the end of the week. He commented that the Govt had failed to provide some of the requested information. He said that the Committee’s advice included the necessity of the Govt coordinating with MPs and not taking unilateral measures; the importance of ordering subsidy reform to start with the “heavier goods”; the importance of conducting further studies; and the recommendation of seriously looking in to the smart card option.
During the 27 Oct open parliamentary debate on subsidy reform, Ahmed Qaratah warned that Parliament would not cooperate with the government anymore, if it continued to take such unilateral decisions. Speaking to the press, Qaratah said, “MPs are not responsible for the subsidy reform scheme of the Government and its results. We enquired about the income of oil and gas industry, but we received no answer. They refused to save the 25–30% of the Government’s state budget, which is allocated for subsidizing products and industries. Why was the main focus of the Government on the meagre five percent that goes to subsidizing products allocated for citizens?”
MPs Abdulrahman Bumjaid, Ahmed Qaratah, Ibrahim al-Hammadi, Jamal Dawoud and Isa Turki have put forward a motion calling on the Govt to double levels of meat subsidy compensation. This is slated to be discussed during the 3 Nov parliamentary session.
On 3 Nov, Al–Bilad newspaper quoted Ahmed Qaratah, following the appointment of Al-Asoumi as Joint Subsidies Committee Chairman, calling on members of the Committee to either improve their attendance or withdraw, in order for Committee meetings to have the necessary quorum which could take decisions. He said that the Committee a couple of days before had requested that the Govt submit to the Committee its complete vision for subsidy reform.
During the 3 Nov parliamentary session, MPs voted to increase meat subsidy compensation to BD 10 to each Bahraini citizen. MPs also voted in support of compensating butchers and investigating the situation facing them. During the session Qaratah called on the Govt to define the timescale for studying the smart card option. “We in this Parliament have borne what nobody else should have to bear. We agreed with the Government that everything would occur through agreement and coordination, yet it took its decisions unilaterally and offered pitiful compensation payments unbefitting of the Bahraini citizen”.
Budget: “The next Budget (2017-2018) will not be passed by MPs in the way that this Budget was passed. The Government has not produced a strategy for developing government revenues and covering the deficit. We ask about previous surpluses and where they went and the Budgets for projects which weren’t implemented… In the 2017-2018 Budget public debt will rise to BD 10bn because the Government will have to borrow further to cover the deficit. This will take us beyond the red line”. (11 July Al-Wasat interview)
Parliament accounts: During their weekly meeting on 20 October MPs approved their annual accounts for the previous year. Ahmed Qaratah argued that the BD 65,000 surplus demonstrated that Parliament was free of corruption. Jamal Buhassan countered that the accounts report had nothing to do with corruption and didn’t prove anything either way; Abdulrahman Bu-Ali agreed, adding that this was about finances not administration and Parliament shouldn’t be raking over the past. Abdulhalim Murad added that various allegations of corruption had been raised, but evidence was never submitted. He noted that the Administration never took any action without consulting the Financial Audit Bureau.
Mumtalakat: Qaratah on 9 Nov said that the Mumtalakat Investigation Committee had found that Mumtalakat had contributed nothing to the economy and the national Budget, and was therefore not fulfilling its core objectives, particularly as it had exceeded its credit limit for borrowing. He said that Mumtalakat’s responses to the Committee’s questions had been contradictory and unhelpful and that the Committee was minded to recommend abolishing the entity.
Bonuses: Qaratah on 12 Nov welcomed the Govt’s agreement with the parliamentary proposal for halting bonuses for local authority officials for two years, to reduce Govt expenditure.
Public debt: During the 17 Nov debate on the proposal to limit the debt ceiling to 60% of GDP, Qaratah said that the Finance Ministry should have been proposing solutions for addressing the financial crisis, rather than making threats about cutting services for citizens.
Policing & regional security
Bilateral agreements: During a 20 Oct parliamentary debate on approving a bilateral trade agreement with Russia, Qaratah criticized the fact that previous agreements, such as an MoU with Pakistan, were written into law but never implemented.
Rights & freedoms
Palestine Committee: During the 10 November vote on committee membership, three MPs pulled out of the Palestine Committee (Isa al-Kooheji, Adel Bin-Hamid and Majid al-Majid), leaving behind only former Chairman Mohammed al-Ammadi, Ahmed Qaratah and new member Mohammed al-Ahmed.
Parliament role & constituent engagement
Parliament: Qaratah during a round-table Al-Wasat interview on 11 July alongside other MPs commented: “Despite my presence in the previous Parliament for four years the most important term for our work has been this one. For the first time the Government Action Plan has been submitted for approval by the Council of Representatives, it was discussed and agreed on. We were told that all of this would be reflected in the Budget. However, when the Budget arrived it was not a reflection of the Action Plan as we were promised. The Action Plan should be submitted with the Budget in order to display the financial details for implementing the Action Plan, not the other way around.
“It is true that the Government is committed to the majority of projects and most of these commitments are for services. However, when the Action Plan arrives, it must offer benefits for citizens and the nation. What we got was disappointing for citizens and the benefits will be further reduced when the criteria are changed for counter-inflation payments, housing benefits and Government subsidies for the coming term.
“There is now a joint committee between the Government and MPs and the last line of defence for MPs and the public will be not infringing on the benefits of citizens. The failure of the Government to diversify its revenues should not be borne by citizens. We confirmed this in the Action Plan. However, if we come to find that these benefits have been curbed, then we won’t accept this. There must be protected benefits for citizens.
“Regarding the parliamentary committees, we find there have been gross shortcomings in their performance. These committees should be rescheduled, as in many cases they don’t have the requisite number of attendees and so files and proposals are held up. These committees are the Parliament’s kitchen and so the weekly parliamentary schedules are weak as a result of the failings of the committees…
“As for whether we are satisfied with the first term of this Parliament; I note that there are 30 new deputies but via momentum on the Budget and Action Plan it has still moved forward a great deal. The Government acted as a bloc against us during the Budget process and this should be reviewed.”
“The existence of [parliamentary] blocs is vital for creating lobbies to exert pressure. Among independents, each person has their own individual views. As a result, there is no opposition in the Parliament. Here I mean a constructive opposition which serves the nation and the citizen. It shouldn’t be forgotten that there are 30 new deputies.
“I’d like to point out here that there is a new bloc that will see the light during the coming parliamentary cycle. It will be called the National Bloc and will have 5-8 deputies. We will have important proposals, such as the issue of social insurance”.
“Our role must be political. Why? Because we want to send a message to the Government that we won’t accept its mistakes. I am shocked by the manner in which the Financial Committee accepted the Budget and by the public debt which will rise as a result of the Budget being agreed in this way.”
“Under the current structure of Parliament, there won’t be interrogations, even in the coming cycles. However, if procedures are changed then there can be interrogations, perhaps during the third cycle… The first parliamentary cycle should be used to submit questions. The second cycle should be for forming investigative committees until we arrive at the third cycle in which interrogations take place after use of the previous oversight tools”.
Committees: According to Al-Watan newspaper on 6 Oct, Jamal Dawoud is standing for continuing his chairmanship of this Committee in the coming parliamentary term, although reportedly Ahmed Qaratah and Adel al-Asoumi are also competing for the job. However, Dawoud acknowledged his readiness to stand down if this served the greater good.
According to Al-Watan newspaper on 8 Oct Ahmed Qaratah is the most likely candidate for the chairmanship of the Public Utilities Committee. Qaratah is said to be a member of the National Bloc which is lobbying for him to take this position, on the basis that the current incumbent Jamal Dawoud may be standing down. However, Adel al-Asoumi is also competing for the role.
In the days afterwards, it was reported that Qaratah had withdrawn from the competition for chairmanship of the Public Utilities Committee in favour of Al-Asoumi and had expressed his interest in joining the Finance Committee.
At the beginning of the new parliamentary term in October 2015, Qaratah received 28 votes from MPs for inclusion in the Finance Committee. The Parliament Administration had initially refused petitions for altering the members of this Committee, but were forced to concede in the face of strong pressure from numerous MPs. During the vote Qaratah and Khaled al-Shaer reportedly came to blows after Al-Shaer, Nasir al-Qaseer and former Chairman Isa al-Kooheji were effectively voted off the Committee in an unprecedented move. During the same vote, Jalal al-Mahfoudh won 37 votes, Mohammed al-Ammadi 36 votes, Abdulrahman Bu-Ali (selected as the Chairman of the Finance Committee with Al-Mahfoudh as his deputy) 35 votes, Adel Bin-Hamid 34 votes, Majid al-Asfour 31 votes, Ahmed Qaratah 28 votes and Ali Bufarsan 25 votes. Isa al-Kooheji, Khalid al-Shaer and Nasir al-Qaseer were voted out with only ten votes, ten votes and 15 votes respectively. The new parliamentary blocs were reportedly decisive in deciding voting patterns for the committee elections.
Affiliation: Qaratah during a round-table Al-Wasat interview on 11 July “The existence of [parliamentary] blocs is vital for creating lobbies to exert pressure. Among independents, each person has their own individual views. As a result, there is no opposition in the Parliament. Here I mean a constructive opposition which serves the nation and the citizen. It shouldn’t be forgotten that there are 30 new deputies… I’d like to point out here that there is a new bloc that will see the light during the coming parliamentary cycle. It will be called the National Bloc and will have 5-8 deputies. We will have important proposals, such as the issue of social insurance”.
Al-Wasat newspaper on 4 Oct signaled that a new parliamentary bloc was likely to be established at the beginning of the new parliamentary term, consisting of MPs Al-Asoumi, Bu-Ali, Qaratah, Al-Bakri, Al-Maarifi, Al-Noaimi, Al-Hammadi, Bin-Huwail and Turki.
Qaratah on 8 Oct spoke to the media about three parliamentary blocs due to be announced on 11 Oct at the opening of Parliament, which would take positions on the subsidies issue.
On 17 October Ahmed Qaratah announced to the media the establishment of the Bahrain National Bloc, whose existence had been reported several months before, but effectively came into being for the negotiations around the elections for chairmanship of the committees. The bloc is to be headed by Abdulrahman Bumjaid. The bloc will reportedly include Mohammed al-Jowder, Ali Bufarsan, Ibrahim al-Hammadi and Ahmed Qaratah – all of whom were previously reported as being part of such a bloc – along with new additions Mohammed al-Ahmed and Mohammed al-Ammadi (Minbar). Qaratah told reporters: “This bloc was already in existence during the previous parliamentary term, but required additional arrangements and coordination prior to being officially announced. This took place during the parliamentary vacation when we endeavoured to cement agreements in order to achieve parliamentary goals in line with the aspirations of citizens”.
Parliament: Qaratah on 12 Oct said that several MPs intended to implement a “partial walkout” from the next day’s Parliament session in protest at the Govt’s implementation of subsidy measures – this proposal appears never to have been followed through.
Private bills: During the 3 Nov parliamentary session, MPs reacted angrily to the Govt’s rejection of a number of private bills put forward by MPs. Qaratah said that with regard to the fees which were being imposed on businesses that employed foreign workers, the Govt should take account of the economic conditions faced by these businesses. He called for greater attention to be given to facilities for young people.
ACTIVITY DURING 2014-2015 PARLIAMENT SEASON
Housing, services & infrastructure
Housing: During a 17 March debate about housing rights and benefits, Qaratah cited the “unjust” treatment of Manama residents, some of whom had outstanding requests for housing provision going back to 1989.
Mosque land: Qaratah on 14 April praised the Prime Minister’s decision regarding ownership of the lands surrounding the Farouq Mosque following his visit to the area.
Standards of living, health & education
Health fees: Qaratah: “These fees have been imposed on a large proportion of the population… given the economic circumstances, businessmen cannot afford such a tax”. (17 February)
Food standards: On 9 March Qaratah raised the issue of illegal foreign workers selling rotten fruit in markets. Qaratah said that he had first raised the issue two years before, but that the problem was becoming worse again in central Manama.
Meat subsidies: During the 26 May parliamentary discussion, a majority of MPs spoke out against the Govt’s plan for halting meat subsidies. Qaratah commented: “Instead of redirecting foodstuff subsidies, why can’t the government cut electricity, water or other sectors subsidies? BD67 million is the support to foodstuff in a year, while other sectors such as gas companies, the Mumtalakat company or the Electricity and Water Authority receive more than BD610 million annually, without pumping one Dinar into the state budget.”
During the 2 June open parliamentary debate on planned subsidy cuts, Qaratah questioned why the Govt was starting with meat, rather than sectors where far greater savings could be made, like gas. He said that the decision should be revoked so that subsidy reform could be discussed as a properly thought-through strategy. Qaratah accused the Govt of forcing citizens to pay the price of its failures.
Retired military: On 31 March parliamentary debate Qaratah proposed amending the law for compensating retired military personnel. He noted that his proposed amendments were in line with Islamic law.
Retirement: Qaratah during the 9 June parliamentary session warned that all Bahrainis could end up taking early retirement as real wage levels sunk to the same levels as retirement benefits. His comments came after a reply by the Parliament Minister to his earlier question regarding the Govt’s strategy for addressing wage levels and regulating retirement benefit.
Social benefits: Qaratah on 1 April tabled a formal question to the Finance Minister about levels of social security handouts to the unemployed.
Qaratah on 7 July told Al-Wasat newspaper that new Govt measures meant that from March 2016 those earning over BD 700 wouldn’t be eligible for counter-inflationary benefits payments and additional retirements bonuses. Qaratah discussed a number of adjustments to other benefits payments, explaining that this was one of his reasons for voting against the Budget.
Economy & employment
Employment: On 2 March Qaratah directed a question to the Minister of Labour concerning provisions for unemployment insurance.
Foreign workers: During the 3 March parliamentary debate on the so-called “free visa” system”, Qaratah reported 373 homes used by foreign labourers in just three blocks in his constituency, warning that this resulted in the departure of Bahraini families from their traditional areas.
Illegal traders: Qaratah on 2 May commended the action by the Interior Ministry against illegal vegetable sellers in Manama. He added: “People who are in the business of selling free visas should also be punished stringently to solve the problem of illegal residents.”
Economy: At a National Unity Gathering debate session on the economy on 5 March, Qaratah was one of the expert speakers. He warned of the danger of the Bahraini dinar losing its value if the national debt was allowed to increase, noting that it could reach 7bn BD by the end of 2016, noting that this was equal to 60% of GDP. He warned of the “wastage” of public funds, for example provision of gas to large public companies, the “corruption in all quarters of the state”.
Wages: In a 23 February Al-Ayam interview, Qaratah said that he doubted there would be serious discussion about public sector wage increases given the current economic situation and declining oil prices.
Economic & financial disputes: During the 17 parliamentary session to discuss the amended practices for the Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution, Qaratah criticized the hurried manner that these proposals had been brought before Parliament.
Companies: On 22 June Qaratah proposed amendments to the laws on companies to more clearly distinguish between companies set up by the Govt and private companies and the increase the degree of oversight for public companies.
Good governance & public finance
Action Plan: Qaratah requested to be added to the Government Action Plan Committee (19 January). His request was accepted.
Gas revenues: Qaratah on 12 January directed questions to the Minister of Energy about revenues from sales of oil and gas, noting the need to ensure citizens benefitted from these revenues and that efforts were being made to further diversify away from dependence on oil revenues. During the 24 February parliamentary session Qaratah confronted the Energy Minister about why large national companies like Alba benefitted from free gas supply, when revenues from supply of these reserves should come back to the national budget. On 18 March Qaratah put forward a private bill proposing that gas should be subsidized for citizens, but that the major public sector companies should be made to pay for their gas supplies in full.
Audit report: During the 31 March parliamentary debate in which it was decided to delay further discussion on the Financial Audit Bureau report because key ministers had failed to attend; Qaratah demanded the attendance of the Finance Minister to discuss the “Upcoming generations fund”.
During the 14 April parliamentary debate concerning the annual Financial Audit Bureau report, Qaratah promised that two ministers would be questioned by MPs and that two parliamentary probe committees would be formed after the summer break. He cited alleged violations by a number of ministries in some detail.
Minister interrogation: During the 5 May parliamentary session an insufficient number of MPs voted in support of interrogating the Health Minister over issues raised in the Audit report (23 supported, below the 2/3 quota of 27 MPs).Qaratah voted in favour of the interrogation.
Interrogation provisions: Ali al-Atish, Ali al-Aradi, Mohammed al-Ammadi, Ahmed Qaratah and Mohammed Milad on 8 May submitted a bill for simplifying the provisions for interrogating a minister, including removing two stages of the approval process and cancelling the need for a two-thirds majority.
Tamkeen: Qaratah on 22 March submitted a proposal for directing funds from the Tamkeen fund only to Bahraini institutions. He criticized the ability of non-Bahraini institutions to benefit from Tamkeen.
Public debt: Qaratah was part of a heated dispute during the 10 March parliamentary session with the Finance Minister. Qaratah demanded a 2015-16 Budget that didn’t run a deficit. The Minister sarcastically responded that he looked forward to receiving the draft of Qaratah’s own budget. Qaratah warned that rising levels of Public Debt could force Bahrain out of the GCC currency union.
On 24 March Qaratah told the Parliament that he had in fact written a draft state budget which included no increase on the deficit.
On 25 March, Qaratah told the media that “the consequences of the political failures of the Government should not be borne by citizens”. He indicated the possibility of interrogating the Finance Minister if services to citizens were stopped.
On 27 March six MPs, including Qaratah, Abdulrahman Bumjaid, Ali Bufarsan, Ibrahim al-Hammadi, Mohammed al-Jowder and Fatimah al-Asfour, issued a statement voicing concerns at rumours that the parliamentary decision to limit the debt ceiling would result in cutting services like housing benefit, inflation support and support for pensioners. They noted that the Prime Minister had committed himself to increasing standards of living and the Government had committed itself to the pledges of the 2015-18 Action Plan. They noted that Parliament’s judgment on the National Debt was in line with the National Bank’s recommendations that borrowing shouldn’t exceed 60% of GDP.
Qaratah during the 12 May Parliament session accused the government of “blackmailing” MPs by arguing that any failure to increase borrowing would directly impact social benefits. He claimed Bahrain’s economy was being run like a “cold store”. The Finance Minister responded to Qaratah’s points, saying that the Government had kept borrowing to a minimum, considering the difficult period Bahrain had recently been through. However Qaratah responded that the government’s policy was a “failure”. He warned that current borrowing plans could have serious implications for Bahrain’s credit rating.
According to Al-Watan on 14 May Qaratah was one of the 9 MPs who said that they would reject increasing the debt ceiling to 7bn BD.
During the 19 May parliamentary session Qaratah urged MPs to reject a “development bonds” bill, related to the public debt ceiling. However, Ali al-Asoumi convinced MPs to refer it to a committee for further debate. (Al-Watan)
Qaratahon 1 June tabled a question for the Finance Minister about levels of borrowing and the size of the deficit
Budget: On 20 April Qaratah said: “Passing the budget will not be like in previous legislative cycles… we will give detailed reasons for rejecting or accepting the Budget”
Qaratah said that in the 27 April meeting with Government representatives MPs were told that the Budget sought to decrease spending in all ministries by 15%.
Qaratah on 12 May thanked the Government for submitting the budget, but complained that it was “7 months late”.
Qaratah on 17 May noted that 87% of the Budget was reliant on oil revenues. He said that this represented a “failure of financial policy” and complained of the lack of strategy for diversifying away from dependence on oil.
A statement by Qaratah on 26 May listed a number of issues related to “wastage” of public funds in the annual Budget. He discussed a number of discrepancies related to expenditure and profits cited by numerous departments, stressing the need to ensure that profits made their way back into the Budget.
During the 23 June parliamentary session the Finance Minister responded to questions submitted by Qaratah regarding the strategy for bringing the national debt under control. Qaratah was strongly critical of the Budget, saying that it lacked any vision for reducing borrowing. He told the minister that he had prepared his own Budget which would not run a deficit and said that he would submit it to the Minister.
During the 2 July special parliamentary session in which a small majority of MPs voted to approve the State Budget, Qaratah criticized the failure of the Budget to be “comprehensive” due to the non-inclusion of borrowing guarantees or a strategy to address the deficit. Qaratah voted against the Budget.
Qaratah on 7 July told Al-Wasat newspaper that new Govt measures meant that from March 2016 those earning over BD 700 wouldn’t be eligible for counter-inflationary benefits payments and additional retirement bonuses. Qaratah said that the reasons for rejecting the Budget were “large and obvious”, noting that many major public entities recorded substantial profits which weren’t recorded in the Budget. He also cited discrepancies in aid payments from other GCC states; he criticized the competency of the Upcoming Generations Fund staff.
Mumtalakat: Qaratah on 30 April was announced as Chairman of the Committee for “Investigating the Deterioration of Financial and Administrative Circumstances” at Mumtalakat.
Qaratah on 10 May said that the Mumtalakat Committee had discussed its work plan and its intention to meet all the companies which are answerable to Mumtalakat.
Qaratah on 17 May said that his Committee had discussed the shortcomings cited in the Financial Audit Bureau report relevant to Mumtalakat. He said in a statement that 28 questions had been directed to Mumtalakat.
Qaratah on 24 May said that the Committee had demanded from the Finance Ministry details of Mumtalakat’s profits.
Qaratah on 7 June said that his Committee had reviewed responses to its investigation received so far and discussed the next steps for reviewing the nature of Mumtalakat’s business model.
Qaratah on 15 June said that Mumtalakat had admitted to failing to implement a number of previous recommendations from the Financial Audit Bureau. Qaratah said that his Committee continued to discuss responses from Mumtalakat to outstanding questions.
Bonuses: On 9 May, Isa al-Kooheji, Jamal Buhassan, Ahmed Qaratah and Mohammed al-Jowder proposed outlawing annual bonuses in government departments.
Upcoming Generations Fund: Parliament on 12 May approved the closing budget for the fund, as directed by the Finance Committee. Qaratah called for better oversight by civil society organizations.
Qaratah on 20 May has proposed amendments to the law concerning the Upcoming Generations Fund, including proposing a dollar to go to the fund for each barrel of oil.
Policing & regional security
Egypt: Qaratah on 16 March praised Egypt’s important role in anchoring regional security. Qaratah called for intensified efforts towards an “Arab common market”, noting how much more effective Arab states can be when they work together.
Rights & freedoms
National unity: Qaratah on 16 March submitted a private bill for establishing a parliamentary committee for promoting national unity “because this is one of the fundamental national principles without which progress and development are impossible”.
Media: Qaratah on 30 April tabled a question for the Information Minister regarding the Ministry’s proposals for upgrading the caliber of the media in Bahrain.
Youth, culture & sport
Youth: Parliament on 3 March rejected an urgent bill put forward by Qaratah calling for the conversion of a Manama youth centre into a public facility open to everyone in his constituency. This issue resulted in a dispute between Qaratah and the current head of the facility.
Parliament on 26 May agreed Qaratah’s proposal for renovating the Ras Ruman youth centre in his constituency.
Sport: Qaratah was one of 10 MPs who on 16 March proposed an open parliamentary debate with the relevant minister to discuss what the Government was doing to promote Bahraini sport and athletes. During the 7 April open parliamentary debate about sport, Qaratah called for upgrading Bahrain’s sporting infrastructure, claiming that 20 million BD was needed to implement sporting projects. Qaratah on 19 April called for greater attention and investment in Bahraini sport, urging the authorities to capitalize on the success of the Formula 1.
Qaratah on 20 April said that he and five other MPs planned to submit a proposal for establishing a cricket stadium in Bahrain.
Grand Prix: Qaratah on 13 April praised the importance of the Formula One for raising Bahrain’s global profile.
Parliament role & constituent engagement
Walkout: On 10 February Qaratah participated in a walkout after the head of Parliament refused to discuss media allegations of corruption in the Parliament’s Secretariat General. Qaratah said that an urgent investigation should be held if corruption had been discovered.
However, if there was no evidence then damaging accusations shouldn’t be circulated. He said that he held the Secretary General Abdullah al-Dossary responsible for dealing with the matter.
Affiliation: Qaratah announced (14 February) his participation in the five-member National Bahrain Bloc in the parliament, along with Abdulrahman Bumjaid, Ali Bufarsan, Ibrahim al-Hammadi and Mohammed al-Jowder. (Although Al-Hammadi distanced himself from this decision).
Private members’ bills: During the 7 April parliamentary session MPs voted to commit the Government to a time limit for implementing proposals submitted by MPs and agreed on by Parliament. Qaratah said that the Government’s response that this proposal was “unconstitutional” was “disappointing”. He stressed the need for greater cooperation and “good will” between the Parliament and Government.
National Assembly: Qaratah on 29 June said that the National Assembly building project was to be halted in favour of building additional facilities for the current building.
Public engagement: Qaratah on 9 April praised the Interior Minister’s call for an “Elite’s Council” or Majlis in each governorate in order to open communication channels between ordinary people and the authorities and address outstanding challenges.
On 28 May Ahmed Qaratah, Ali al-Muqla and Mohammed al-Jowder participated in a majils event in Arad to discuss the State Budget.
- Standards of living, health & education – 6
- Housing & services – 4
- Policing & regional security – 4
- Good governance & public finance – 8
- Economy & employment – 8
- Supporting constituents & youth – 6
- Rights & freedoms – 6
- Constructive Parliament role – 6
- Public visibility – 5
- Progressive/reformist credentials – 6
Results of 2014 elections – 2nd Capital
Areas covered: Central Manama, Burhama, Salehiya, Suwayfiyah
Housing blocks: 301, 302, 303, 304, 305, 306, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315, 316, 351, 353, 354, 355, 356, 357
Registered voters: 8,361; Percentage 1st round voter turnout: 33.3%
First round vote:
Ahmed Qaratah (MP) – 946 (36.3%); Hashim al-Alawi – 622 (23.9%); Ibtisam Hijres (MP) – 412 (15.8%); Faysal Bin-Rajab – 312 (12.0%); Ahmed Ghalib – 112; Ala’uddin Bu-Ali – 105; Faisal al-Aradi – 94
Second round vote:
Ahmed Qaratah (MP) – 1224 (60.3%)
Hashim al-Alawi – 806 (39.7%)
Profile of election campaign: Ahmed Abdulwahid Jassim Hassan Qaratah
In 2011 Qaratah won the parliamentary by-election with 791 (53%) of the votes. Qaratah said his decision to participate in the 2014 elections had been a last-minute one, based on pressure from local people. In the past Qaratah has clashed with the MP from the neighbouring 1st Capital constituency, Adel Asoumi, over housing projects in the area. Qaratah is one of several MPs who have called for tighter regulations for bars, hotels and nightclubs in parts of the capital, particularly Juffair.
Qaratah succeeded in removing former MP Ibtisam Hijres from the competition in the first round. Ibtisam gained the seat on a relatively low turn-out in the 2011 by-election, and she was only contesting this area as a result of the 2014 boundary changes. She previously represented the 3rd Capital district.
This constituency includes the traditional market centre of Manama. However, the constituency has expanded quite substantially with the recent electoral border changes and now includes the outlying areas of Al-Burhama, Salehiya and Al-Suwaifiyah.
According to an analysis by Al-Watan newspaper, the population of this constituency is around 80% Shia. Many urban Shia in Manama are from the Ajam community, of Iranian origin, who tend to stand apart from Al-Wefaq and the mainstream opposition. Many established Ajam families are staunchly loyalist and will ignore Al-Wefaq’s election boycott, particularly with several moderate Shia candidates they can give their support to.
The 33% first round turnout illustrates the very different dynamics in this constituency between those supporting the boycott, those who were disillusioned with the performance of MPs during the previous Parliament, and those who have come out to vote, either due to their support for a particular candidate, or their sense of national obligation.
Know your deputy: MPs profiles
Adel al-Asoumi – 1st Capital
Chairman of Permanent Committee for Public Utilities and Environment
Ahmed Qaratah – 2nd Capital
Adel Bin-Hamid Abdulhussain – 3rd Capital
Abdulrahman Bumjaid – 4th Capital
Nasser al-Qaseer – 5th Capital
Chairman of Parliamentary Human Rights Committee
Ali al-Atish – 6th Capital
Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Shari’ah and Legal Matters
Osamah al-Khajah – 7th Capital
Shaikh Majid al-Asfour – 8th Capital
Mohammed Jaffar Milad – 9th Capital
Nabil al-Balooshi – 10th Capital
Ali Bufarsan – 1st Muharraq
Ibrahim al-Hammadi – 2nd Muharraq
Jamal Buhassan – 3rd Muharraq
Isa al-Kooheji – 4th Muharraq
Mohammed al-Jowder – 5th Muharraq
Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Foreign, Defence and National Security Affairs
Deputy-Chairman of Parliamentary Human Rights Committee
Abbas al-Madhi – 6th Muharraq
Ali al-Muqla – 7th Muharraq
Abdulrahman Bu-Ali – 8th Muharraq
Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Financial and Economic Matters
Fatimah al-Asfour – 1st Northern
Deputy Chairwoman of the Committee for Women and Children
Jalal Kadhim al-Mahfoudh – 2nd Northern
Deputy Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Financial and Economic Matters
Hamad al-Dossary – 3rd Northern
Deputy Chairman of Committee for Youth and Sports
Ghazi Al Rahmah – 4th Northern
Chairman of Committee for Youth and Sports
Ali al-Aradi – 5th Northern
Deputy Chairman of Parliament
Rua al-Haiki – 6th Northern
Chairwoman of the Committee for Women and Children
Shaikh Majid al-Majid – 7th Northern
Dr. Isa Turki – 8th Northern
Abdulhamid Abdulhussain al-Najjar – 9th Northern
Mohammed al-Ammadi – 10th Northern
Chairman of Committee for Supporting the Palestinian People
Jamal Dawoud – 11th Northern
Jamila al-Sammak – 12th Northern
Khalid al-Shaer – 1st Southern
Mohammed al-Ahmed – 2nd Southern
Abdulhalim Murad – 3rd Southern
Second Deputy Chairman of Parliament
Mohammed al-Maarifi – 4th Southern
Deputy Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Services
Khalifa al-Ghanim – 5th Southern
Anas Buhindi – 6th Southern
Deputy Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Shari’ah and Legal Matters
Abdullah Bin-Huwail – 7th Southern
Chairman of the Permanent Committee for Foreign, Defence and National Security Affairs
Dhiyab al-Noaimi – 8th Southern
Mohsin al-Bakri – 9th Southern
Deputy Chairman of Permanent Committee for Public Utilities and Environment
Ahmed al-Mulla – 10th Southern
Chairman of Parliament